I met Mrs. Errabelli Vandita Rao in her lovely Hyderabad home, which was done up with a classy rustic theme, with a few artefacts brought in from her ancestral house in Kalleda, Warangal. Although I was earlier kept informed of how Rural Development Foundation was born as an initiative of her family, I wanted a conversation with her to understand the organization’s ethos first-hand.
In a lively and warm conversation with her, what showed was her passion for two things– her Warangal and Karimnagar roots, and the empowerment of the marginalized.
“I am not an educationist,” she admits apologetically, but Vandita is very clear about how she’d like to see children learn and grow. Her mission and philosophy are what makes the Rural Development Foundation (RDF) schools such an interesting project.
How It Started
The Errabellis were a wealthy landed family in Telangana, who decided to give away their ancestral house and estate in Kalleda (Warangal) to start a school. The idea was to educate the children of the village. As Vandita put it, it was an effort to repay the farmers who worked on their lands and made the landowners prosperous and thus enabled the kids of the privileged to get educated.
In 1996, the first RDF school was thus inaugurated at Kalleda, with 80 children. I did happen to visit this schoolbefore my meeting with Vandita, and I was quite fascinated by the house, which was straight out of a period Telugu film. The Kalleda school is the biggest of RDF schools, with over 600 children, and is also where most of RDF’s new initiatives are piloted.
From 1996, one thing did lead to another, with the family’s funds and lands going in to kickstart various projects. Now, with the help of corporate funding of infrastructure, there are four RDF schools – Kalleda, Matendla, Redlawada and Rollakal – with over 1,500 children. There is also a junior college at Kalleda.
It was not a smooth ride all through, though. Vandita tells me that two of the schools faced problems because of extremists. I’m not surprised that extremist violence was hardly a deterrent in RDF’s zeal to educate the kids in these villages.